| 3.6/5 |
| Works by Alfred Coppel, Speculative fiction books|
Dark December is a 1960 post-holocaust novel by Alfred Coppel.
Dark December Wikipedia
A nuclear war which left the US and the entire world devastated is over at last. The war-weary Major Kenneth Gavin is discharged. Leaving the enclave where the remnants of the US Army keep some semblance of order, he sets off on a quest into the wilderness which had been California, on a quest to reach his home - though having no idea if anything was left of it - and trying to make something of the life left to him in this harsh new world. He crosses areas where every living thing had been vaporized, countryside where anthrax and radiation sickness are killing off the survivors, where gangs of homeless kids had reverted to savagery and would murder for a pair of shoes and where women had slipped to the last stages of degradation.
A crucial point in the book is the moment when Gavin finds a Soviet Air Force pilot who had parachuted onto American soil. With no organized government left to establish Prisoner of War Camps and uphold the Geneva Conventions, the pilot was captured by boys who are constantly torturing and degrading him, venting upon him their anger and frustration. Gavin's determination to save the Russian brings him into a head-on confrontation with another officer roaming the ruins - Major Collingwood, a fanatic and ruthless militarist and nationalist determined to rebuild the same order which had led to the devastating war.
Eventually, Gavin wins his struggle with Collingwood - a moral as well as material victory - and in the cautiously optimistic ending, finds a new love and the possibility of making a new start.
As noted by Edward Cook "Coppel clearly disapproved of the Cold War ideology, prevalent at the time of writing - but his book should not be reduced to simply a cautionary tale about the danger of nuclear war, a danger which we in 1993 consider (hopefully, not prematurely) to have receded. 'Dark December' carries a strongly humane message, which could be relevant as long as human beings are faced with moral choices. In this book, bestial and dark instincts make their very conspicuous appearance, but unlike in 'The Lord of the Flies' they can be overcome. Common decency, solidarity, compassion, love, eventually win out in the most harsh of tests, against overwhelming odds.(...) It is not an overtly religious book, but Collingwood is gradually transformed from simply an extremely authoritarian and fanatic human being into a virtual manifestation of Satan, Evil incarnate - and Coppel manages to make that transformation chillingly believable. (...) The choice of the protagonist's name might not be accidental. Sir Gavin (or Gawain) was among the most famous of King Arthur's Knights, and the quest he undertakes in "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" is decided on moral more than physical grounds".
David Seed wrote: "An altogether more ambiguous and less high-minded view of human response [is provided by] novels like Alfred Coppel's "Dark December". [They] show a single character making his way across a shattered landscape presenting obvious physical dangers to his survival, but the prime danger presented to this man comes from another army officer who uses the necessities of the post-war situation to justify the most savage acts. Again and again nuclear war is shown as stripping away the superego of the survivors. And if social restraints are lost, does this mean that the war allows free play to bloodlust and other impulses held in check? Not quite, since the rupture between pre-war and post-war is never total. In Coppel's novel the protagonist has been serving in an underground bunker when the nuclear attack happened, and so the action of Dark December, as well as describing encounters with physical dangers, becomes an extended psychological drama between Gavin's old self and his dark double personified in the crazy Major Collingwood who shadows him everywhere. Collingwood's eventual death therefore symbolises the survival of pre-war civilization, albeit in a tenuous way".